If there’s anything that this economic downturn has taught us, it’s that the only person looking out for you is you. In this era of mass layoffs, slashed benefits and mandatory work “furloughs,” we’re all learning quickly that years of loyalty aren’t worth much in a recession.
I think that this mindset can sometimes be more difficult for women to get used to than men. Traditionally, men are more apt to negotiate for better pay, to ask for promotions, and to look for better opportunities when things dry up at their current companies. Women, on the other hand, tend to be quieter about touting their own accomplishments and aren’t as aggressive about negotiating promotions and raises, thinking instead that their good work and loyalty will be rewarded in the long run — without their calling attention to it.
Unfortunately, we’re learning the hard way that loyalty isn’t always rewarded. In fact, sometimes the people who are the quietest about their accomplishments are the ones who are most likely to be taken advantage of by their employers. After all, if you’re never asking for more money, why would any smart business owner give you a raise?
And the story gets even more grim in a recession, when we’re all expected to show our passion and to fight for the few jobs that are available. Shyness is easily interpreted as “not caring” and you might be first to go when layoffs strike. Even if you are safe, that doesn’t mean that you should just breathe a sigh of relief and continue forward with the status quo. The motto “always be prepared” has never been more necessary.
As I’ve talked to the young women I work with, there is this pervading sense that looking for another job right now (even when it’s clear that your current job isn’t safe) means that you’re being disloyal. They feel guilty (heck, I feel it too, sometimes), like they are abandoning their company when the company needs them most. This is the feeling that some companies bank on. Because we all know the job market is tough, some companies are holding the threat of layoffs over their employees, motivating them to work harder for less pay. This may be something we all need to do for now, but, in the long run, is that the company you want to work for? Is that the company that deserves your loyalty?
The moral of the story is to look out for number one. If you’re worried about losing your job, the time to look for a new one is now, not when the pink slip comes. No one else is going to protect you. Recession or not, you have to put yourself in the best position to push your career forward – and careers nowadays rarely move forward in a linear fashion. Fight for your job, fight to get paid what you’re worth and fight for your future, whether it’s at your current company or another one.
Read more from contributing writer Jennifer Lee Johnson on her personal finance blog, The Next Rich Girl, or follow her on twitter.